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The Everyday Nationalism of Workers: A Social History of Modern Belgium, Maarten Van Ginderachter

Reviewed by Zeying Wu

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As the subtitle suggests, this book is largely a historical account of the sociopolitical changes in modern Belgium. Yet, with a particular interest in Belgian workers’ nationalism and its daily expressions, Van Ginderachter zooms in on specific regions, cities, and organizations to unravel the complex social background and historical context of Belgian workers’ everyday lives. Drawing on historical archives, some of which the author was the first to analyze (such as the propaganda pence), Van Ginderachter presents in vivid detail personal stories and interactions among different social classes.

The reader is shown how Belgian workers modified the top-down nationalist discourse and constructed their own sense of nationhood from the bottom up at the end of the nineteenth century. We learn that political and social institutions, including elections, national celebrations and mass entertainment, military conscription, imperialism, and schooling, were not as effective as has been assumed at instilling national sentiment among the working class or the masses in general. As a matter of fact, Van Ginderachter argues, national belonging, ethnicity, and language were not that relevant in workers’ daily lives. Only when the First World War brought in the national “Other” did language, e

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